MANKATO - On his first 11-on-11 handoff of his first training camp practice in pads Tuesday, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson burst through the line, slipped past a trio of linebackers and made it into the secondary untouched. Not a single defender even came close to putting a finger on him.
Of course, that was all by design.
Yes, Peterson's surgically repaired left knee seems to be nearing full strength again. And technically, he has been cleared to resume football activities in full. But until further notice, the Vikings have hung a giant "Do Not Touch" sign around Peterson's neck.
"The rules are simple," safety Jamarca Sanford said. "Do not touch 28. If you touch him, you're cut."
Coach Leslie Frazier admits he has had detailed discussions with his defense about handling the star running back with extreme care as Peterson blends back into practice. And just to make sure that message was clear, Frazier hopped into the defensive huddle just a moment before that first Peterson handoff to reiterate the orders.
"Now we have to adhere to it," Frazier said. "But one of the things they told me was, 'Coach, you know how he runs. What about protecting us?'"
Even as Peterson put on his pads Tuesday for the first time since December and giddily returned to work, it was obvious the Vikings aren't going to gamble much with him in practice.
Peterson did drill work as normal. But in 11-on-11 action, he was on the field for fewer than a dozen snaps. He took two handoffs, and both times defenders moved out of his way as if it were a family picnic and he was a 6-year-old owed a moment of glory.
Said Peterson: "Initially, I kind of expected to get hit or bumped or something. ... I'm still going to lower my shoulder. So those guys are probably going to get tired of touching off and tired of me putting my shoulder into them. They'll end up firing back."
Still, the tune accompanying the "Adrian Peterson Recovery Tour" has not changed. It's an orchestra of amazement, optimism and caution.
Frazier, his assistants and the medical staff continue to find themselves repeating the same motion -- that palms-down wave that says "Slow down." After all, it's been only 32 weeks and four days since Peterson came off the operating table with repaired anterior cruciate and medial collateral ligaments. So the baby-steps approach still is in use.
"[We're] just getting him increments along the way and not trying to bring it all back in one or two practices," Frazier said.
Meanwhile, Peterson still is vowing to be ready for the regular-season opener Sept. 9 and continues badgering the coaches for more work -- unsuccessfully, of course.
After that first handoff Tuesday, he received loud cheers from the fans.
"Oh, yeah! Standing ovation!" Sanford chided. "Standing ovation!"
And then after practice ended, Peterson took the podium for a brief, bright-lights news conference to recap his two-carry afternoon.
It was another sign of how important he is to the organization's future and a testament to the drive he's had to not miss a game in 2012.
"I had that vision," Peterson said. "I knew there would be a journey, a path to get closer to that vision. But I'm closer. I see it. It's closer now."